I recently returned from a 2.5-week trip to Red Rocks, Nevada. I went with the Southern powerhouse, Jimmy Webb; the Finnish crusher Nalle Hukkataival; Bearcam (Cam Maier of Bearcam Media); my awesome wife, Courtney Woods, and the super-talented Kasia Pietras.
My main objective was to check out Paul Robinson’s aesthetic test piece Meadowlark Lemon (V15), as well as the multitude of new-wave classics and undone projects emerging here in Red Rocks.
We left Boulder and pushed through 12.5 hours of night driving, beating out a snowstorm that eventually left the Front Range looking like the ice age. We arrived to sunshine, sand, cacti, and 50-degree temps. Welcome to the desert!
We unloaded our cars at Kenny Barker’s crib—our residence for the next couple of weeks—and immediately jumped back in the car to go recon “the Lark.” The line is located 35 minutes’ hike up Gateway Canyon, one sector past the Kraft Boulders. While walking up the wash, I found myself mesmerized by the patterns of polka dots and swirls on the ruby red sandstone formations surrounding us. It felt like entering a wonderland—a rabbit hole with a prize at the end.
Meadowlark Lemon was more stunning than I imagined. Its aesthetic striations of rock were reminiscent of marble cake. The holds had perfect texture and were located in just the right places to make the movement flow. It was immediately obvious that this was a world-class boulder. We returned back to the car with more motivation than before, a new obsession created.
Randomly, it snowed the next day, so no climbing. On day three, we bee-lined it straight for the Lark. I knew the general sequence from various online videos. I envisioned myself doing potential sequences, grabbing holds I still hadn’t even touched.
We arrived at the boulder. It was 30 degrees. We unpacked our Organic pads, and turned on a propane heater.
You only get one chance to flash something, and it’s always fun to try regardless of how difficult it is. You just never know what you’re capable of doing and you shouldn’t let something like a V-number deter you from the opportunity to surprise yourself.
My flash attempt, however, was pathetic and I fell low. Jimmy, however, pulled onto the rock for his flash attempt and fell three moves away from the ending. It was one of the sickest things I’ve seen!
Meadowlark Lemon is nine moves long, with each move roughly the same difficulty. The style of climbing is technical. You have to put your body into the right positions and hit the holds perfectly in order to stick. The last move is an awkward lurp to the lip; stick that, and you can breathe again and top out.
Jimmy and I did all the moves fairly quickly and started to make send attempts. After a couple of slip-ups, I found myself standing on top. I was stoked to climb one of the best boulders I’ve done. Jimmy got really close to sending that day as well—he fell off of the last move. We returned the next day and he finished off the line. A few days later, Nalle ticked the classic as well.
[ba-pullquote align=”right”]Grades are a cool way to track progression, but they are not the only thing that matter.[/ba-pullquote]As far as the grade goes, Paul used a different sequence than we did. We did not try it his way, but it looked difficult. We all have different climbing styles, heights, arm-spans etc., which are what make bouldering an individualistic experience. Jimmy and I figured our method was V14, but Paul’s looked to be V15. This is the unique beauty about climbing. Grades are a cool way to track progression, but they are not the only thing that matter.
Now that our main objective was complete, we were free to explore. Courtney and Kasia were motivated to do this perfect 20-foot-tall line called Americana Exotica (V10). The girls went to work figuring out the burly sequence. The crux involved taking a ¾-pad sloping undercling with the left hand and standing tall on poor smears to a right-hand sloper. Bump with precision to a hard-to-stick right-hand gaston slot. The final move is incredible: a left-hand dyno to a jug off of a right-hand crimp.
[ba-pullquote align=”right”]It is always satisfying to send something that does not correlate to your strengths. This helps you progress and become an all-around climber.[/ba-pullquote]Kasia crushed the problem that day. Courtney put together all of the moves, and was psyched to return. The moves were hard for her; they didn’t suit her strengths. But this is why we climb: because it’s hard! A few days later, I went back with Courtney and she destroyed Americana Exotica. It was cool to see her climb something outside of her style. It is always satisfying to send something that does not correlate to your strengths. This helps you progress and become an all-around climber.
We all spent a few days repeating the classics. Wet Dream (V12). Lethal Design (V12). Book of Nightmares (V11). The Shining Path (V12). Americana Exotica (V10). A Clockwork Orange (V12).
During what few rest days we took, Jimmy spent his time hiking around, looking for new lines and hard projects. He is a machine! It was inspiring to see someone so dedicated to finding new boulders. Through his tireless energy, we soon became motivated to find something new and hard.
Red Rocks has vast potential for new lines. There are four prominent canyons, filled with erratic sandstone blocks: First Creek, Oak Creek, Pine Creek and Mustang Canyon. Andy Raether, Pete Lowe, and Kenny Barker have been three of the more prominent developers in these washes in recent years.
Kenny showed us a picture of a line in First Creek that looked insane. He declared it one of the coolest boulders in Red Rocks that has yet to be done. It is hard to envision how good something is from a photo, but we took Kenny at his word and planned to trek out there next day and see the boulder for ourselves.
This hyped-up project is an hour’s hike from the car. The hike is not hard, but, damn, it’s long! The first 30 minutes consists of sun-exposed flat trail through shrubs and cacti. A distant canyon shimmers in the glaring desert sun like a mirage, seeming as if it’s never getting any closer.
Finally, you arrive in First Creek Canyon and immediately the temperature drops 30 degrees. Boulders began to grow in the wash, and as you continue to hike for 30 minutes you soon find yourself dwarfed among some of the most beautiful pieces of rock that I have stood beneath. Ruby red and tan colors. Polka dotted and swirly sandstone mixed with dark varnish. It was all so beautiful.
But then we arrived at THE project.
Gazing up at the 25-foot boulder, our jaws drop. Kenny was right. This was totally sick!
We got to work. We stared at the canvas and brushed chalk onto the lower rails, feeling the holds. Once the line was brushed and chalked up, we tried the upper moves. They turned out to be deceiving. It looked straight-forward but we could not find the right balance to do any of the moves.
Hard intro climbing lead to a distinct, obvious stand start. This “stand” contained an obvious rounded left-hand sloper feature with a flat ¾ pad edge for the right hand. Above that, three distinct vertical rails appeared, though all were hard to engage. Above these rails was an obvious positive finish rail, leading to an easy topout.
Jimmy brilliantly came up with a method that involved a huge right-arm lock-off to the upper left-hand rail. He pinched the living shit out of it and delicately crossed over right to a bad horizontal block pinch. This move was so strenuous, so tenuous and so hard that when Jimmy was climbing, it looked like he was moving in slow motion.
From the right-hand block pinch, Jimmy could easily make the next move to the finishing rail. That day, he did each individual move, but was unable to do the sequence from the stand.
I, however, was not strong enough to do it Jimmy’s way. I had to develop a method that fit my size and strength. I figured out I had to start from the stand with my hands crossed: left on the 3/4-pad edge and right on the sloper. From that position, I could cross my right hand way over my body to a two-finger, tip-splitting minuscule edge, lever my left foot to a far-off rail, then mantel the sloper with my left while pulling my body into the wall with my right. This sequence had me praying that my tip would not split each time.
Up top, I dove my left hand across my body to the block pinch, which Jimmy can get with his right. Because my hand sequence is all crazy, I now need to come in to a right-hand gaston before exploding to the finish rail with my left hand. This beta was totally crazy … but it worked. I was able to do all the moves, but like Jimmy, was unable to link them together on this first day.
To reach the stand-start holds (the sloper/crimp) required climbing a V7/8, followed by a V11 iron cross. We realized this was going to be really hard.
Day 2 went better. Jimmy was able to climb the boulder from a stand start; he then started making attempts from the true beginning. I was not quite able to link my method from the stand start, but I came close. Jimmy was making huge progress, linking into the stand. But the final move was eluding him. He brutalized himself on these 2 moves, ingraining them into his system. I got all psyched watching Jimmy get buck on this rig. Seeing him try so hard helped me realize that if I wanted to do this thing, I needed to bite down harder.
Day 3 was a breakthrough. I linked through my sequence, but it still felt hard as hell. I was having trouble imagining myself doing these moves from the start. The tricky part was preserving my skin so that it would not split open. I had to limit the number of efforts I could give it. I had to be smart and not climb recklessly. I had to make sure each effort was worth is, so I gave 100%.
I was able to link from the bottom to the last move, where I’d fall out of control. This was progress, but bouldering is a game of millimeters. A few millimeters one way or the other can sometimes be a few millimeters too many, pushing the send of any project to miles away.
Jimmy kept pushing. He was getting closer to sticking that final block hold from the ground. It was exhilarating going into battle with Jimmy on every attempt. We were feeding off of each other’s energy, pushing ourselves millimeters closer. Some part of us knew the project would go down; it was just a matter of time.
[ba-pullquote align=”right”]The more I climb, the more I realize how rare it is to find a beautiful line with a perfect start and finish that is hard. To me, it was as exciting as the first time I walked up to Fred Nicole’s groundbreaking test piece Dreamtime.[/ba-pullquote]Our time at Red Rocks was coming to an end. Only two more days to complete what we had since dubbed “The Nest” project. On our fifth day on, the conditions were overcast, warmer and humid. Today, the energy in the air felt weird. The approach seemed longer. The whole time my mind was obsessively going through beta, visualizing over and over. I was creating this immense pressure on myself to get this project done.
I had never seen a boulder like this before. The more I climb, the more I realize how rare it is to find a beautiful line with a perfect start and finish that is hard. To me, it was as exciting as the first time I walked up to Fred Nicole’s groundbreaking test piece Dreamtime.
On the day I sent The Nest, we first stopped at another project in this wash, which we had been walking by and looking at multiple times on our way to The Nest. In a team FA effort, Jimmy, Nalle and I climbed this beautiful new boulder. Doing this other problem, as opposed to just gunning for the main prize, helped boost our confidence and take away some of the nervous pressure I think we were all feeling toward The Nest.
Jimmy and I trudged uphill while the others remained to scrub up some other potential lines. Jimmy and I were psyched as hell to climb on this thing again. We warmed up on the top section, then began our battle.
Jimmy went first and fell on the final move again. I went next and stuck the final block hold from the beginning—however, I fell coming into the right-hand gaston. This was a high point, so I was psyched about that.
Jimmy gave his second attempt, climbing like a machine through the bottom. He hit the upper pinch perfectly and started to move in slow motion. I was watching from the side and it felt as if time had stopped. He hit the block perfectly and controlled it. His body, however, started to drift slightly to the left, throwing him off balance by those few precious millimeters and landing him on the mat. We fell silent. This was the closest either of us had gotten to sending, and it was snatched away from Jimmy at the very last second. Jimmy kept his composure and sat down.
My heart was beating fast, not knowing what to feel at this point. I calmed down and pulled on for my second effort. The holds felt sticky. I felt in flow with the line. I stuck the block and bounced into the right hand gaston. This was a new highpoint. All that remained was the final move to the rail. But I felt pumped. I threw for the finishing hold, not knowing what to expect. I stuck it for a second, but slipped off and collapsed onto the pads.
Normally in this situation I would start cursing and going crazy. Instead, I felt a sudden rush of confusing emotions enter. Happiness that I’d reached a new high point. Sadness that I fell. Confidence that I could do this line. Uncertainty about whether I’d have enough juice left to do it this day, or even before our trip ended.
Strangely, I realized that all the pressure to get this boulder done today had been lifted. I accepted that I could walk away from that last burn, content with my few millimeters of progress. I thought back to the first day I saw this project, when I had figured it would take multiple months of effort. Yet here I was, after less than a week of work, nearly doing one of the harder and more stunning problems I’ve ever tried. Jimmy and I each said we were going to give one last attempt before throwing in the towel.
The temperature dropped and the air was slightly humid. The holds felt in mint condition. I pulled on and began the intro with a clear head and a light body. The iron cross went smooth and natural. I grabbed the miserable two-finger razor and pulled into it as hard as possible, not caring anymore if my tip split. I reached to the final block pinch and came into the right-hand gaston. I kept tight and reached to the final rail.
I climbed the remaining 10 feet of V1 and was on top of the raddest boulder I have ever climbed. I still felt in the zone and could not believe what just happened. The Nest (V15) was born and it had given me such a great experience. There was only one way I could’ve been happier: if Jimmy could climb it, too.
Of course, Jimmy was now all fired up. Now it was his turn at one more attempt. There’s nothing to say other than he completely bone crushed it, climbing perfectly and soon standing on top of The Nest for its instant second ascent. We both felt relieved and happy. I had never experienced such an intense back and forth session with another bouldering partner. We simultaneously went through the same epic physical and mental war. It was super memorable, and super cool. I consider this day as being one of my favorite and proudest climbing moments: to have battled with a good friend/top boulderer on an amazing undone project and, best of all, for both of us to have emerged victorious on our last tries of the day. Priceless.
About the Author
Daniel Woods, 24, can rightly be considered one of the most influential—and strongest—climbers in the world. Hailing originally from Texas, but moving at a young age to Boulder, Colorado, this 5’8″ power-house has dominated the American bouldering scene, winning dozens of elite competitions over the years and establishing scores of V14 and harder boulder problems. He is one of the few people in the world who has climbed 5.15 and V15/16. Move for move, few people can keep up with his machine-like strength.. He’s also known as one of the more serious trainers—putting in time in the gym and taking that effort out on real rock and making it happen. In person, Daniel is one of the more polite, positive and respectful climbers out there. He’s always encouraging others, and sharing in his stoke to crush rock.